Hear that crunching grinding noise? That’s the sound of the tectonic plates of the political parties moving in divergent, convergent and transformational directions. On Tuesday Ed Stelmach announced he would not seek re-election. On Wednesday Ted Morton said the provincial budget had been approved with his support but he wouldn’t commit to presenting it in the legislature. By Friday he’d quit his post as finance minister and kicked off the leadership race. Everyone is speculating about who else will enter the leadership race and whether we’ll witness a repeat of the 2006 leadership campaign which saw Morton and Dinning splitting the vote and a third place contender walking away with the prize.
But that really doesn’t matter does it? The real question is: What do Albertans want? Rob Anders believes that Alberta is a “true-blue conservative province” and the only hope of survival is a right-wing fiscal conservative like Morton. Other PC’s believe a more “progressive” PC like Jim Dinning is the answer. Preston Manning suggests that in addition to the fiscal conservative/progressive split, there is a rural/urban split and a north/south split. This rhetoric is premised on the belief that somehow the PC’s have figured out how Albertans—or rather how rural Albertans—will vote. Did you hear that “crack”? That was the sound of at least 6 different factions trying unsuccessfully to align.
But what if the PC’s have got it wrong? What is the vote doesn’t turn on whether rural Albertans are fiscal hawks and urban Albertans are not? What if the rural/urban and north/south “splits” don’t really exist at all? This is where Kelly’s gall bladder comes in. In the fall of 2008 my husband and I flew to Victoria for a weekend getaway, leaving our children to fend for themselves. They’re adults, they’d be fine. We were relaxing in our cosy little room at the Empress when the first frantic phone call came through. Eden, Kelly’s younger sister, had just packed Kelly off to hospital and was parked there to advocate on behalf of her sister who was in so much pain she was incoherent. Roy and I frantically rearranged our flights (thank you WestJet) and got back the next morning. By then Kelly had progressed out of the ER waiting room into a lazy boy in the “Rapid Assessment Unit”. Twenty-two hours after admission she was given a bed in the geriatric ward pending surgery. The gall bladder was removed and the next day Kelly was sent home—only to return the following day with a raging infection that required an additional 9 days in hospital.
This wretched experience created a tectonic transformational shift in my relationship with the government of Alberta. Over the next 2 years I became fully engaged in the political process. I’ve watched the PC’s jeopardize the viability of the oil and gas industry with an ill-conceived royalty scheme and threaten the sustainability of our natural resources by its inept oversight of the development of the oil sands. Billboards in the centre of London and New York really don’t cut it without an underlying commitment to prudent environmental stewardship. The quality of our healthcare system has diminished to the point that Alberta is ranked 7th out of the 10 provinces for healthcare delivery systems. Alberta’s educational system is next up for a “transformational change”–at the same time as the government is threatening to renege on the pay deal it struck with the teachers union. To top it all off, the government recently announced that it is at an impasse with its 23,000 unionized provincial employees.
That cracking noise you hear is not the splintering of Alberta’s voting population into north/south, rural/urban or conservative/progressive factions but rather a tsunami of frustration created by the government’s failure to deliver on its promises.
The level of political engagement in Alberta has changed dramatically. Calgary was the first to witness this heightened engagement in the recent municipal election where voter turnout reached 53% and Naheed Nenshi—a relatively unknown candidate—was elected mayor. Albertans are seeing it at the provincial level with the creation of not one but two new political parties—the Wildrose and the Alberta Party. The Liberals and the NDP are fading from the ballot and the PC’s who have historically kept a lid on party in-fighting became so dysfunctional that they punted 2 cabinet ministers in the last 2 years. Albertans are becoming informed about the issues and are no longer willing to be soothed by promises which will be delivered later (the “trust us” gambit). Whoa, did you hear that? There goes another tectonic plate—this one is in the continental crust and it will transform the Alberta political landscape forever.
PS. Kelly is fine now and a tad mortified by her gall bladder’s notoriety.